The traditional definition of “gaslighting” is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity [Wikipedia]. I hope you’ve seen the original movie because it’s absolutely fantastic.
But what about milder forms of this, where someone (doesn’t have to be a man, but in my case I’m talking about men) keeps you off-balance by continually changing “the rules,” rejecting you for giving him something he asked for, alternatively complimenting and criticizing so you don’t know where you stand, etc., but doing all this in a very smooth, charming way so the vertigo becomes part of the overall dating dynamic and you would need to exert a lot of effort to pull out a fine strand of the “gaslight”to analyze? And it might make you sound a little bit crazy to even mention this, so you don’t. You shrug it off as people being “quirky.” Quirky is cool, right? I like quirkiness.
I’ve been noodling over this “vertigo” lately. I wonder why dating makes me nauseated, especially when I actually like someone, which is exceedingly rare. Met a man recently who seemed confused about what he wanted from a relationship. Did he want something intense or casual? He didn’t appear to know, so how was I supposed to figure it out? Some days he craved convos full of deep, emotional content, while other days he was superficial, skittering around anything of substance. He’d demand that I tell him something very personal and then he’d ignore it, later saying I talked too much and he didn’t have a chance to say anything in reply. Sure, people are allowed to be moody and inconsistent, but I started to suspect it was deliberate, to keep me pecking madly like the birds in the famous experiment. If you know you’re going to get something steady, you relax and trust, but if it’s variable and random, you stay alert and focused, nervous and high-strung, waiting, wondering. Some men (people) want you to remain in that state of agitated anxiety. It’s a control mechanism. He certainly wasn’t the first man I’ve met who acted this way. But I liked him a lot and gave him a very generous benefit of the doubt.
Now, some women (people) of course don’t give a shit about any of this. They’re immune. They don’t have a genuine emotional reaction (although they may fake one) to the doling out and subsequent withdrawal of compliments, endearments, criticisms, big emotional shares, etc., in this way at all; it doesn’t affect how they respond to the other party. Maybe they’re conducting their own attempts at manipulation and are oblivious to what’s being flung at them, or maybe they’re on a different wavelength altogether. But I’m not one of these peeps, and I can’t be one of them. So, any advice in that realm (“stop caring”) is super unhelpful. I will always care ~ my goal is to recognize more quickly when this mild gaslighting is occurring and GTFO.
Luckily, I GTFO of that last one fairly quickly, but I’ll be honest and admit it had nothing to do with my skill at recognizing any subtle gaslighting while it was ongoing. It was because something else happened to piss me off and force an ending. Only now I can see the weird manipulative stuff going on during that short-lived romance. It’s possible this stuff was not deliberate or conscious on his part ~ I don’t know, or even care. It was happening, is all I need to understand. At my age, I don’t have the luxury of waiting around while a man sorts out his psychological issues. He’s either together enough emotionally to build a healthy relationship, or he’s not. EOS.
I find it interesting that the men I’ve been most romantically attracted to and have begun relationships with, of whatever duration, have found ways to criticize me, right from the start. This makes me feel awkward, I apologize a lot, and they tell me to stop apologizing (cuz it’s annoying). I end up annoying myself with so much apologizing, but I find it hard to quit. Suddenly I’m enmeshed in this uncomfortable dynamic of feeling I’m on the verge of ruining everything, but I believe all will be OK as soon as X happens. X is different for every situation. Sometimes my belief turns out to be true: X happens and things are good, for a while. Sometimes it’s false: X happens and things still aren’t good. And sometimes X fails to happen… and the relationship usually ends quickly.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a clever way to end this poast. I’ve had a bad week, but I’m looking forward to a fun Saturday with a friend. As before, I’m doing fine alone and have a surprisingly great support system despite (or maybe because of) no romantic partner in my life. Most likely that is how things will remain.
It could be worse.